It was always dark in Ellen’s room. She insisted the curtains remained drawn at all times. She was one of the few nursing home residents who could afford a private room. No one knew much about her. Her room offered no clues about who she was before she moved into the facility—no pictures on the walls, no visitors, no small talk. The only thing that belonged to her was an over sized, faded blue chair that sat in the corner of her room. That chair swallowed her tiny, crooked body whole. A healed tracheotomy left her with a grating whisper of a voice that spoke of people trying to kill her and hide her away. Her vigilant gray eyes followed every noise and shadow. I tried to pass her room as quickly as possible, but she summoned me with her abrasive voice and long, bony finger each time.
The staff elected me to sit with her the day she lay dying in her dark and uninviting room. I saw death sitting in her blue chair waiting while she labored to breath. Ellen’s mouth was wide open, her eyes shut. Her hands had already turned a bluish-gray. I wrapped my hands around hers—I was her last connection to her lonely, frightening world. The life in my youthful hands could not save her, only comfort her. The moment she died, I could feel it. I was happy for her because she was finally free.
After twenty-five years, I still think about Ellen. At times, the thought is almost overwhelming. During a miraculous moment in time, my hands touched both life and death as she passed between worlds. The soft sound of my voice was the last sound she would ever hear. The last thing she would ever feel were my hands as I held her. Ellen was my first. Since then, I’ve held many hands because no one deserves to die alone. Thank you for that gift, Ellen.